On The Edgware Road @ Serpentine Gallery – REVIEW
This exhibition is the visual manifestation of work conducted under the aegis of the Edgware Road Project over the past three years – an effort to bring about collaborations between artists and local constituents, with its dazzlingly diverse output testifying to its huge value as an enterprise.
We are presented with a mixture of past work by artists affiliated with the project, works in progress, and future work in formative stages. As co-curator of the project Janna Graham notes, the results of these ‘possible studies’ are not always ‘art objects’, nor is their placement in an exhibition a stated aim; instead they are ‘a step in a trajectory towards change’.
The first and most visually delightful of the pieces is the show-opener of an orchestra pit filled with instruments-crossed-with-step-ladders, a musical-mechanical hybrid both witty and imaginative. They are destined, in theory, for a date with the Chicago Boys (‘1970s revival band and neo-liberalism study group’) on Speaker’s corner, and although admittedly precarious, they seem like a herd of beautiful musical animals waiting to be unleashed on the crowd.
Another installation with great visual impact is a gorgeously hand-crafted tent, embroidered inside Emin-style, not with the names of lovers, but with a story from Tahrir Square in 2011. It refer to the KFC outlet that handed out free food to the protestors, and later became an infirmary, but was branded by the counter-revolutionary media as the work of foreign insurgents stirring up the Egyptian revolution for their own ends. The tent was designed by the artist Susan Hefuna but crafted by traditional tentmakers in Egypt – who embroidered their own revolutionary messages onto the tent prior to its decoration by the artist, in a serendipitous occasion of unplanned collaboration.
Some of the most interesting pieces are only tenuously linked with the Edgware Road, but remain commensurate with the project’s exploration of cartography, identity and public space. One set of such pieces are the maps reproduced by the Lebanese artist Marwan Rechmaoui – appearing somewhere between a mappa mundi in coloured crayon, and what could be plans of the original walled garden of Paradise, replete with burbling rivers and spacious lawns. It is only on closer examination that one reads them as the maps of Palestinian refugee camps, and the canvases as slabs of concrete.
Works more obviously site-specific to the Edgware Road are those conducted by Year 10 students from Westminster Academy with the graphic designer Babak Hashemi-Nezhad, in a series called The City from Our Perspective (2011). The study takes the form of collections of photographs intended to investigate a social phenomenon or problem, but which use an aesthetic starting point, resulting in some lovely collections of visually rhyming images.
Another is the work of CAMP – a Bombay-based arts collective – which can be found at Edgwareroad.org. Although the site might be somewhat difficult to navigate, one has to admire its ethos of total availability, accountability and contestability. Resources include downloadable place mats, hopefully making their way back into the cafes and restaurants of the Edgware Road, and containing information about the local council’s planned building works, of which many local people were apparently unaware. Also of note are a number of intriguing films, some based on the Edgware Road itself as the result of the Free Cinema School revival initiated by the Centre for Possible Studies. Such pieces are truly a testament to the potential of the Edgware Road Project, the creative power that it is able to harness, and the key word acting as a basis for all the work it conducts: ‘possibility’. Words: Isabel Seligman © 2012 ArtLyst